Sunday, May 1, 2016

Pea Gravel Ridge Mt. Hood

This weekend Mike D, Andy, his buddy Sam and I planned to ski the Wy’East Face of Mount Hood.  By mid-week the weather was looking perfect for an early Sunday morning ascent and corn skiing at 10,000 feet but the mountain weather had other plans when we woke up.  Instead of the Wy’East we had a wonderful day skiing corn off the east shoulder of Pea Gravel Ridge and even got to skin up the entire length of the ridge to just underneath the Newton Clark Glacier.  Read on…

I had driven up late on Saturday night to the Elk Meadows Trailhead (HRM Meadows Lot) after grabbing dinner with Emily at Mee-Dee Thai.  I stopped at New Seasons to pick up some breakfast foods and snacks for the climb and made it to the lot by about 9:30pm where I found Mike waiting.  

We caught up for a while about each of our travels, the lawsuit, and Mike’s year off of work touring around Central and South America.  Sam showed up around 10pm and after quick introductions we were off to sleep, waiting for Andy to meet us at 4:30am.  As I slept in the bed of my truck I could hear wind on the mountain in the distance… a little concerning.

We woke up at 4:30am to Andy pulling in, quickly got packed up, I ate a cold peanut Thai burrito and we headed off at around 5:15am.  We had to walk about a quarter mile of road up to the lot as the gate was closed for the summer but as soon as we entered the woods we were on snow and skinning up cross country ski trails.  We soon entered the woods and boot packed up to the forested base of Pea Gravel Ridge.  It wasn’t long before we could look higher up on the mountain where my fears of wind and Andy’s early morning prediction were realized.  It was blowing up there.. hard.

As we ascended the ridge out of tree line it became pretty apparent that Wy’East would be out of the question.  Sure the wind might die down later in the day but it was a risky choice with snow conditions up that high on such a steep slope.  After a quick group huddle we decided the best game plan was to drop off the east side of the ridge for some turns on a slope that was quickly getting baked by the sun and softening up.  This proved to be a great choice as the snow was perfect and as we skied down it the wind seemed to diminish a bit.  

I got some great footage of everyone skiing down as well as some shots of the summit getting blasted by winds before heading down myself for some great turns.  At the base Andy and Sam were quicker than I with my camera gear to switch their skins and bindings and start boot packing up.  I tried to catch them to give them a hand breaking trail but, alas, they are younger and in better shape so were kicking my ass up the hill while I stopped to video and take photos of them.  Hopefully my video and photos will pay them back for laying steps for my out of shape legs.  

We did one more run down the same slope, then boot packed halfway up for a snack break.  The decision was made to head back up to the ridge and see how the weather was and what options we had for a ski out.  When we got back up to the ridge we scouted out options and I looked far up the ridge line to where I thought we could drop into the headwall of Heather Canyon, a huge bowl called “super bowl”.  Everyone seemed to agree this would be a fun exit via the Meadows resort ski trails so we headed up the extra 500-600 feet up the ridge, despite tired legs.

When we got towards the top of the ridge Andy and Sam scouted out our drop-in options and we could see a bit clearer that there were a couple crevasses up high as well as a stream bed opening up under the snow in several spots.  We would need to drop in close to a rock fall area as well as avoid the higher crevasses and use some speed to cross the snow zone between the opening stream gaps.  

Yes, this sounds terrible but to me it looked pretty doable.  We put it to a group vote and the others didn’t seem to think it was such a good idea as it looked a little tricky to stay high enough on the slope to traverse into Heather Canyon and there was a small ridge in the middle where we might not be able to ski due to it’s sun angle.  

Yeah, I was a little disappointed but in Mountaineering you always stick with the group call unless you feel uncomfortable.  The decision was to side slope back down the ridge to slightly below where we had been skiing before, then drop down into the Heather Canyon runout and hopefully cross the stream safely there.  I HATE side sloping on skis as it jacks up only one leg which was already tired, but it clearly was the safer choice and it didn’t take us too long to get to the tree line where we had to walk down some exposed vegetation before skiing some fun trees down to the canyon bottom.

Crossing the river wasn’t a problem higher up but as we skied out some pretty low angle trails back towards the trailhead we came across a collapsed snow bridge over the river and had to cross by boot.  There was a tree crossing a little bit up river but I chose to cross via rocks a little bit below the snow bridge and the others followed.  I got a little wet through my boot but being so close to the car I didn’t care.  After some tiring ski-skating and pole-pushing we were out to the pavement around 12:45 and back to the vehicles by 1pm.  

We all shared some beers and convo before heading off back to Portland with tans and sore legs.  We didn’t accomplish our goal of the Wy’East face but with all our boot packing and skiing we nearly got the same amount of elevation gain.  Great day with good people and new friends!

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